Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Whitby and Saltwick Bay

Abbey From Town
Our Whitsun holiday this year was to a part of the country I have scarcely been since I was a boy and I thought it high time I went back for another look with my girls.  Unusually we stayed right in the heart of town and that meant that we could start this walk from the front door of our holiday cottage :)

Seafarers Mission
We wandered down to the old swing bridge across the River Esk.  This eye-catching crossing was once the only way for road traffic to cross the river and must have resulted in some fiendish traffic jams back in the day.  For now though the bridge is mostly thronged with pedestrians and it is only the most determined motorist that comes this way.  We crossed over and took a right away from the main street though a narrow pedestrianised side street with some delightful shops and bunting all laid on.  It looked very summery and cheerful and was the perfect sight for our first day of holiday.  At the end we crossed the road and turned right again heading alongside the Esk for a while before coming to the old Seafarers Mission.  I don't think this building serves its original purpose at all now but hats off to those that founded it.  A building of this nature must have been vital considering how much Whitby has always looked out to sea for its living.

Just past the Mission we climbed up and out of the valley.  After an initial steep climb up steps we soon headed through a housing estate and along more gentle slopes as we left Whitby.  We passed by the old hospital - a rather handsome looking building that is now converted to flats - and then we were out in the fields.  Our onward path skirted a few fields and through a farm before reaching a main road.  We turned right again and were thankful that for at least the first couple of hundred metres our route had a path alongside the road.  I am not too keen on walking along roads, especially with my daughters and this one seemed a bit of a race track.

The next turning was left along a track away from the road.  It wasn't too easy to see the names of the houses we were aiming for but Hornblower was a memorable one.  I wondered if it had anything to do with the novels of the same name.  We passed through another farm and kept going uphill, albeit quite slowly.  I started to wonder whether we would ever get to the top!  Halfway up the hill we opened a gate for a farmer heading in our direction.  He looked most appreciative, probably he has to do that job many times each day and hopes that he comes across a hiker each time he approaches one.

The first half of the walk is in truth rather unremarkable.  It was only when we got to the farthest point from Whitby that the true magic of this walk was revealed.  The first hint was reaching the house called Hornblower.  This was a sounding station - the enormous horns on the top of the building rather gave the game away!  Not sure why this was provided separately from the lighthouse about half a mile away but there you are.  Both buildings were rather special - I cannot imagine anything like it would be built nowadays.  Hopefully the horns aren't used anymore as the building is now used as holiday accommodation.  I wouldn't want to be kept awake by a foghorn if I stayed here!

The need for both of these installations was fairly apparent shortly afterwards as we saw the first shipwreck.  This is the Admiral Van Tromp, a trawler that ran aground in mysterious circumstances in 1976.  Further on we also saw the remains of the MV Creteblock, an unusual ship that was built at the end of World War I from reinforced concrete rather than steel due to the shortage of the latter.  Out in the bay is also the remains of the SS Rohilla, a hospital ship lost in World War I with the loss of nearly 80 lives.  Today the shipping we saw was safely out to sea - this coast is clearly treacherous.

Admiral Van Tromp
Our path headed back towards Whitby along the clifftops from the lighthouse.  It was a delightful route full of interest with rock formations, the tantalising view of the Abbey approaching, kittiwakes wheeling around above our heads and screeching at each other on the cliffs and profusions of wildflowers growing along the side of the path to tease our senses.  Add to this the salty air wafting over us and we had the recipe for the perfect walk in my eyes :)

Whitby Abbey
Soon we came upon a large caravan park.  Seemed like a lovely spot on this day but I'll bet it can get a bit wild up here on the clifftop.  The reason for it being here was plain to see - the sweep of Saltwick Bay below us must keep the residents amused for hours!  On another day perhaps we would have gone down to check it out but we had a date at the Abbey that we meant to keep.  It meant hurrying along the next stretch of clifftop and past all the hoards of people.  Caravan Parks do seem to generate a lot of casual walkers - I've noticed this before in the south-west.

We managed to get to the Abbey in good time.  We were here for a performance of Dracula - the Abbey of course is featured heavily in the Bram Stoker novel.  We had also been listening to it in the car - seemed only natural while driving around these parts!  It was a bit of a romp through the story.  Only three actors played the various characters and this led to some amusement as they constantly changed costumes to act the various parts.  We moved around the Abbey to watch the performance too just to add a bit of extra context to it.  While not covering the whole of the story the hour and a half or so covered a good chunk of it and was thoroughly entertaining.  It was a good way to end the walk.

Saltwick Bay
We wandered around the rest of the ruins after the show and then down the famous 199 steps back into the town.  In spite of the crowds and kitsch on sale in some of the shops there is no doubt that Whitby is a charming place and it was a real pleasure to visit.  This walk was a great introduction to the coast, town and the main attraction of Whitby. I can thoroughly recommend it as a good starting point to any stay here.  At 4 and a half miles in length it is modest but packs a lot in.

Whitby From Top of 199 Steps

Monday, 5 June 2017

Northiam and Great Dixter

Great Dixter
A place that has long been on our radar for visiting is the celebrated garden of Great Dixter.  As it is clear the other end of Sussex we needed a day that we could plan for in advance.  We were also unsure whether it was worth the length of trip - a perfect way to extend the visit was walk number 1 in Volume 67 of Pathfinder Guide East Sussex and the South Downs.  It meant that the length of journey justified the modest length of walk as well as the garden.  We picked the perfect day - beautiful blue skies with puffy clouds floating along leisurely.

Our walk started at the village hall in the scenic village of Northiam.  For me this end of Sussex is relatively uncharted territory, especially as the scenery is a lot more reminiscent of the neighbouring county of Kent.  Our first task was to cross the busy A28 road and disappear down an alley running between some sumptuous looking gardens.  We were soon out into open fields and our decision to choose this day was vindicated when we saw how brilliantly all the lush new growth and flowers looked in this glorious weather.  It was one of those magical days that only come along a few times in the spring and which must be savoured.  The fields were largely left to fallow and were filled with buttercups, adding a touch of gold to this corner of Sussex.

New Foliage
To tell you the truth there was nothing particularly remarkable about the first half of the walk other than the luscious colours.  The path largely skipped between fields lined with blossom festooned bushes, mostly May.  Eventually at the sight of a large oak tree resplendent in its new foliage we turned direction and headed up a modest hill towards the house of Great Dixter itself.  As we climbed there was time to catch our breath and enjoy the views across the Weald behind us.  It was hard to believe that this area was once the iron industry capital of England so rural is it now.  The only sign of industry now is the large windmill at Sandhurst over the border in Kent a few miles away.

At the very top of the hill we reached the house itself.  This was built in 1910-12 by Edwin Lutyens using an original house on site and adding another structure rescued from Benenden.  Although the house is lovely it is surely the garden that stands this property out from others.  It was designed by Christopher Lloyd, the celebrated gardener, and manages to be structured and yet wild at the same time.  I loved its slightly chaotic feel as weeds were celebrated as part of the structure of the garden without being allowed to strangle it.  Of particular note for me with the huge angelica 'trees' that seemed to tower over everything else.  I'm no gardening expert but the garden is arranged into rooms, demonstrating to me at least that this is obviously not a modern concept.

Great Dixter Gardens
We spent a good amount of time in the garden enjoying the warm sunshine and even having a spot of lunch.  We didn't actually go inside the house (although perfectly possible to do so).  Somehow it didn't feel right on such a great day - maybe next time?  Eventually feeling that we had seen enough we headed back to the car and completed the loop.  What followed was rather more road walking than I like but necessary to get us through the village.  Northiam is characterised by traditional clapboard houses, a very distinctive sight at this end of Sussex.  Combined with the unique finger posts that seem peculiar to East Sussex, the clapboard houses are perhaps the characteristics that remind me that I am an East Sussex boy at heart despite living in the west of the county for nearly 20 years.
We left the village by another lane and eventually left the road behind opposite a well done barn conversion.  There was one little surprise in store as the path opened up to reveal a great view across fields with beautiful thatched cottages and an oast house over to the left and the spire of the church ahead of us.  A scene that was quintessentially English.  We crossed over the field and back to the church.  As we got closer a rather grand affair greeted us, unusually with an octagonal tower.  Just beyond it though was a sight that we almost missed - a very old oak tree that apparently Elizabeth I is reputed to have sat underneath.  It was an interesting point to conclude the walk.

Crossing The Last Field
This wasquite a short walk, clocking in at only three miles.  Adding the visit to Great Dixter to the walk is vital in my opinion - doing both together certainly justified the distance to travel over from Worthing.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Worcstershire and Staffordshire Canal - Kinver to Kidderminster

Kinver Lock
For the first time ever we transferred our attention from canal walking to canal cruising and tried out a section of this canal for a couple of days.  We hired the boat from Worcester and headed up the Severn before transferring on to the canal at Stourport.  It was only by going by boat that we realised how slow this form of transport actually is.  By the time we got to Kidderminster we realised that would have to be the limit of our ambitions.  Yet we also wanted to explore more of the canal than we could by boat and so we hit on the idea of doing our usual thing and walk the section we had originally intended to cruise.

Fortunately for us there are a couple of buses per day from Kidderminster to Kinver and we made sure to get the one on the morning.  Perhaps surprisingly we were the only ones on board and it was a fairly bumpy ride the few miles that we had to go.  We got out in the rather attractive looking village of Kinver and headed away from the centre to find the canal about a quarter of a mile away.  On the way we passed a very grand looking water pumping station.  The Victorian architecture was very eye-catching and I couldn't help thinking that the old place would make for a good looking block of flats someday.
Housing Stock
At the canal bridge we passed by a pub that looked rather inviting.  It was a bit early for lunch though so we turned right along the canal and headed towards Kidderminster.  Almost immediately we plunged into the most delightful countryside and not how you might expect Staffordshire to look. (we crossed the county boundary on the bus).  Large scale maps of this area suggest that it is a lot more built up than it actually is.  Initially the canal bank was nose to tail with moored boats.  I suspect that many of them were here to make the most of the pub and/ or the facilities of the village.  Most looked pretty sleepy although there was the smell of bacon as we passed by some of them. 

Approaching Whittington Lock
Mostly the route was free of boats after this although a couple passed by us in the next couple of miles. We left the first boat that passed us behind when it got stuck in a lock and all was quiet for some time after that.  It wasn't long before we crossed the county boundary between Staffordshire and Worcestershire, handily marked by a proper signpost (never seen one of these on a canal before).  It was about this point we started to see the surrounding countryside and not just the canal corridor.  Beyond were the bright yellow fields of rapeseed and in others merely red/ brown soil reminiscent of Devon.  We were now hitting our stride with the walk and the combination of early spring fragrances and singing birds were enough to gladden the hardest of hearts.

Whittington Lock
Up until Caunsell Bridge (number 26) the route had largely been straight sections with the odd curve.  Now the route changed to a lot more wiggly as we found a small range of hills.  This was a very interesting section as we passed by a pretty good looking building that I suspect is now a conference centre/ hotel.  This overlooked a large field in which a heron stood motionless poised for action, although he seemed quite far away from the water and presumably what he was looking for.

A little further ound the canal and we went past a mobile home site.  This was rather larger than I thought for when it looked like we had passed it some more seemed to reappear around the next corner.  Perhaps I was rather more focused on trying to find out where the woodpecker I could hear was actually hiding out.  I never did see it although it sounded like it was really close.

Starting Out
The next part of the mobile home site sported an unusual sight - a signal gantry that looked like it was of Great Western Railway vintage.  No doubt that the residents of this particular park took the appearance of their site very seriously - most seemed to have well tended small garden plots outside their homes.  I would like to say that my nose was filled with teh fragrance from their flowers but sadly that was not the case - instead I got a sudden waft of death smell and this soon turned into a stench.  It was pretty apparent why when I passed by a dead badger.  It looked like the carrion eaters had been at it already for it wasn't a pretty sight either - looked a bit CSI.

Border Post
After we had passed by the mobile home site we came upon a short tunnel and unusually we had to walk though.  Personally I always like these opportunities, as long as no-one is coming the other way!  There really isn't much room to pass by then...  Just the other side of the tunnel and we passed by a factory that still had its canal connection.  I imagine in days gone by this was a wharf but now any notion of goods coming this way must be a very long time ago!

Guard Duty
Another aspect of this canal which we found very attractive was the rocky outcrops that showed themselves when we went around some of the corners.  These were particularly evident at Debdale Lock, where I stopped to help out some boaters get through. This must have taken some digging out by the navvies and probably wasn't too attractive when first built but now it has blended in it really adds a lot of character to the waterway..  We went around a large loop with a large rocky outcrop in the middle while on the other side the woods were resplendent with bluebells - made for a lovely scene.  Further on and the bluebells were replaced by Ramsens, adding some extra fragrance to the walk.

At the next lock we were briefly tempted by a coffee shop in the garden centre next door to the canal but moved on when we saw how busy it was.  Across the valley we could see the village of Wolverley and the church looked particularly attractive.  The sunny start we had had to the day was disappearing though under a layer of cloud, which was a great shame. 

Cookley Tunnel
The last part of the walk was completed a lot more quickly as I took rather less pictures with the increasing gloom.  It wasn't too long before we came to the outskirts of Kidderminster and although the housing estates were clearly growing out into the surrounding countryside the canal successfully managed to cut a swathe through all of them and retain a rural feel for quite some distance.  Even the estate that did surround the canal towards the end nicely dovetailed with the route.  Having the canal as the centrepiece rather than a nuisance was a nice touch by the developers and the residents appeared to embrace it running through the middle.
Boat Park

Not long past here and we were back to our boat.  It was a good little work out for the morning - although we only walked a modest length (6 miles) we did enough to suggest tht this canal might be worthy of further exploration.  I'll wager it will be by foot rather than boat as it is a lot quicker!

Orange Tip

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Wey Navigation Godalming to Guildford

Godalming Church
Walks this year seem to be more sporadic as the time available seems to be ever more at a premium.  This particular Saturday walk was a welcome one especially as it coincided with one of the first good weather days of the spring.  We had actually completed this walk a year before but dunderhead that I am I managed to delete all the pictures from my camera.  We discovered that not only was the weather remarkably similar to that day, but it was also the corresponding day in the calendar - how spooky!

Park and Bandstand
This is far from a challenging walk - it is only just over four miles long and largely flat as it heads along this branch canal.  Some of the walk was completed during the wander along the Wey-South Path some years ago.  This section is still used and may provide the link from the Wey and Arun to the River Thames in years to come.

End of the Navigation
We started at Godalming; the very end of the canal section.  Godalming is a pleasant place, clearly with some wealth behind it.  In that respect it isn't a lot different to many other towns in Surrey.  We parked at the station, which was fairly inexpensive on a weekend day (beware bank holidays - they are inexplicably more expensive).  The rail service between Guildford and Godalming is roughly half hourly so getting back isn't too much of a problem. 

Boat Hire
From the station it is best to aim for the very large church as the river is almost right next door.  We passed by the Phillips Memorial Cloister.  This curious feature commemorates the life and death of the chief wireless operator on the RMS Titanic, Jack Phillips who was responsible for sending out the distress calls from the ship on that fateful night.  The gardens inside were designed by Gertrude Jekyll, famed designer of the early 20th Century.

Trowers Footbridge
We stopped for a bit of lunch in the park and watched with amusement as the ducks, geese and swans were all engaged in various courtship rituals.  There was no boat traffic here as the river is not navigable past the Town Bridge.  That seemed to help the birds as they were largely undisturbed.  The park was properly waking up from its winter slumber.  Flowers were brightening up the whole scene and the weeping willows overhanging the river were bedecked in their early spring foliage.  Coupled with the powder blue sky the whole scene looked very fresh and young.

Just beyond the park and we emerged onto the main road through the town which was a bit of a shock to the system after the tranquil surroundings that we had come from.  Thankfully it was short lived as we resumed our course along the River Wey on the other side.  Just around the corner and we reached the town basin at end of the navigable section of river.  There were quite a few boats moored along this stretch of river, most of which looked like they were still on their winter break.  In fact we all noted how little activity there was on the river - to be fair the temperatures were still a bit chill.  I suppose it needs to warm up a bit more before people properly get going.

After a lengthy straight stretch of river we came to our first lock at Catteshall.  We coincidentally found a boat coming through it - the only activity we saw for several miles.  The lock had a boathouse just the other side although there was little sign of anyone wanted to hire one of the boats on offer.  The river took a meandering route from here winding through small trees just showing signs of sprouting foliage.  We went under the unusual Trowers Footbridge, which was apparently built to access the nearby Unstead Park.  It was a rather grander affair than would be provided now but probably befits the importance of its destination.

Exclusive Parking Spot
The route was characterised by a number of pillboxes along its length and the first of these was shortly after.  These ones are unusual in that they are perfectly round, unlike the square ones that we see in Sussex.  The River Wey was clearly felt to be an important strategic route for any invaders as they are still pretty prominent even after all these years.  After a meandering route we lost the river over a weir and the navigation became a proper canal, complete with lengthy straight section.  We passed by the picturesque Unstead Lock.  Just off to the left was a picturesque garden with what looked like a berthing basin for boats - indeed there was one in position as we passed by.

Half Pint
Two former railways crossed the canal just north of here - the first is now occupied by the Downs Link footpath that links Guildford with Shoreham using the trackbed of the former lines that crossed Surrey and West Sussex via Horsham.  The bridge across the canal has been replaced with a more modern span that is cycle friendly - I imagine that the original one was removed some time after closeure in the mid 1960s.  Further on is a slightly more dubious railway - certainly the earthworks are all in place but whether it ever carried trains seems to have been lost in history.  Certainly it must have been an early closure for the middle of the trackbed now sports a World War II pillbox.

Mighty Bridges
In between the two erstwhile railways is the stub of the Wey and Arun Canal, walked a few years ago on the Wey South Path.  There is a move to restore this and significant progress has been made in the past few years.  It will probably be longer than my lifetime to see this little stub of the canal becoming part of the through route though.  We also had to cross the busy A248 road - not an easy task.  I rather wished that the towpath went uder the road bridge but alas there is insufficent room.

Guildford Castle
The onward walk from here is very familiar as I have done it a number of times in combination with other routes.  For my money the approach to Guildford is up there with some of the most scenic canal walks in all of England, certainly the ones I have visited.  It starts at the rail bridge taking the North Downs railway across the canal and passes by the shallow lock of St Catherine's (it only brings the water up a couple of feet).  After meandering through some woods and passing the base of sandy cliffs Guildford comes into view overseen by its castle.

Negotiating the Locks
As we approached the edge of the built up area the canal boat that we had helped through the lock finally caught us up - it would only be ahead of us for a short period of time though as the lock in town soon held it up again.  By now we had also caught up with the hoards of people all enjoying one of the first genuinely warm days of spring.  Sadly my lot weren't particularly interested in a trip to Guildford Castle so I had to go with the flow.  I think perhaps it was the hill up to the top that put them off - maybe next time I come this way I shall make sure of a trip to the top.  For now though we made our way through the town to the station and returned by train to Godalming.  On the way we passed by a memorial to Lewis Carroll, who died in Guildford in 1898.  Rather fittingly it was of Alice watching the white hare running away alongside the canal.  I think this must be a recent installation as I don't remember seeing it before.

Last Crossing
As short walks go this is a particularly good one with plenty to see along the way.  I think perhaps we might try and complete this walk going north although it doesn't look as if transport links will be easy - maybe some out and back walks would work?

Lewis Carroll Monument

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Duddleswell and Nutley Mill

Ashdown Forest
Half term brought some beautiful weather with hints of spring in the air and we were all eager to get out.  We needed somewhere that was fairly dry underfoot and settled on Ashdown Forest.  This part of Sussex has always been a bit of an enigma for me - I've travelled through dozens of times over the years but walks are still quite rare.  In fact I realised when seeing a picture of Nutley windmill that I'd never seen it up close and felt that I had to fix that.  I delved into a different guidebook for this walk, Cicerone Guide Walking in Sussex - this is walk 11.

Lunch Stop
We parked opposite Duddleswell tea rooms.  I remember this place being impossibly busy back when I last visited more years ago than I remember.  Today though it was empty and closed - probably a lot less clientele around on a winter's midweek day in February.  As soon as we got going we had some difficulty with route finding.  That isn't unusual to be honest and probably why I haven't been up here too often.  There are so many paths that it isn't easy to know whether you are on the right one...

Nutley Clock
We got in a bit of a tizz trying to find our way through the bracken but in the end the view of Nutley in the distance and the lie of the land got us there.  I was rather surprised at how many houses had been built on the edge of the ridge and even a new build was going in.  That was perhaps the biggest surprise of all but sure it must just be replacing an existing house?

Nutley Church
We dropped down a broad ride through the forest to a confluence of streams at the bottom of the valley.  Even though we had barely covered a mile the children were already angling after their picnic and this seemed as good a place as any to stop.  Picnicking in February is not quite the same as it is in June but this little place did make for a lovely place to stop.  

Pink House
After refreshments we continued on our undulating route towards Nutley.  We could see the  grave of some airmen who crashed here during wartime.  Our route this time did not pass close enough to look more closely - we'll come back another time I think.  We routed around a farm that looked as if it were geared up for equine farming rather than anything foodwise.  There was a lot of activity in this area, mostly men and Range Rovers.  Not sure what this was about but was thankful that it did not seem to involve shotguns this time.

Old Lodge
Once past the farm we dipped down into another valley before climbing up through the woods and into the village of Nutley.  I've always though that this otherwise attractive village is rather spoiled by the A22 running through the middle of it.  Villages with main roads running though the middle of them seem to lose a lot of their charm and this one is no different.  It was lovely to see gardens getting some colour back though - snowdrops and crocuses were on show in many of them - the bleakness of early January seems a long time ago already.

Nutley Mill
We passed by the small church and the school before diving down a lane to take us away from the village.  This was a very pretty lane and made for easy walking for about a mile.  The houses scattered along the lane had beautiful gardens and great views; they must be idyllic places to live especially as the road noise had already died away.  At the end of the lane the path climbed up through a small stretch of woodland and came out at a pink cottage.  We again lost our way a little here as the instructions didn't seem to match what was on the ground.  Luckily there was a path a little further along the road that we took although that meant we had to double back to the windmill.

Camp Hill
Nutley Windmill is claimed to be the oldest working windmill in Sussex and was built around 1700.  Sadly it wasn't possible to have a particularly close look as it is understandably locked behind gates when not open to the public.  The sails were also pointed away from us so I had to make do with the view that I got.  The sun helped though, coming out briefly from behind the clouds to shine on it and really light it up.  I dwelt here for a short time before rejoining the girls who had already moved on.

Our route now descended across typical Ashdown Forest country - bracken and small areas of woodland criss-crossed by broad rides/ fire breaks.  At the bottom of the valley the path became more intimate as we crossed over a stream and we followed it for a short time skirting around a rather grand building called Old Lodge.  Children were starting to lag by this point and so sweets had to come out to help them along :)  We also caught sight of a goldcrest in the hedge but try as I might I could not get a decent shot of it as it did not sit still for more than a second!  It was lovely to see Britain's smallest bird though - I don't remember a time when I have seen one this close before.

Camp Hill View
We found our way onto the drive to Old Lodge and followed it all the way up to the main road.  The sun was fully out now and we had an extended sunny interval as meteorologists would call it.  The trees that we walked through seemed to have an extra glow about them, especially the silver birches that positively gleamed!  The end of the driveway marked the start of the best bit of the whole walk.  We now headed alongside the main road and over Camp Hill, an iron age hill fort.  While the fort itself is not particularly impressive the views out from here most certainly are.  We could see right down into Hampshire from here and a squint through the binoculars enabled us to see Blackcap, Devils Dyke and Chanctonbury Ring.  By following the ridge of the South Downs west Bignor Hill could be seen and beyond until even through the binoculars I couldn't determine exactly what I was seeing.

Camp Hill
Just after Camp Hill we lost the sun for a short while.  The amazing thing about the sun going in at this time of year is that it transforms the landscape into a much duller version of itself almost immediately. Sadly this was the case as we passed by Ellson's Pond - we didn't pause to admire it like the people in the guide book did.  The sun did come back a little way further on though and immediately the temperature increased too!  By now we were almost back to the starting point and the onward track that we had missed at the start of the walk was rather more obvious.  Perhaps there is a case for starting the walk at Ellson's Pond to make route finding a bit easier?

Ellson's Pond

This eventually became a very satisfying walk but the route finding did prove to be a problem a number of times on the way round.  Mud was in short supply thank goodness, meaning that this is a pretty good winter option.  Ideally though try to pick a day when the tea room and the mill are open for maximum enjoyment :) 

Duddleswell Tea Room